Setting boundaries with family members is a common skill taught in therapy. Boundaries are a necessary skill for a functional family dynamic to happen. It’s often a skill people are not taught, especially in chaotic families. Learning boundaries with families can help you to set boundaries with friends, at work and in all areas of your life.
This week, we’ve gotten our team of experts together to share ways you can start setting boundaries with your family members.
It’s a running joke in my family that I love boundaries. And it’s actually true. It’s a skill I picked up along the way of being a therapist. I’ve found it valuable with my family, friends and at work. Here are my top tips for setting boundaries with family members.
1. Ask permission
It’s important to ask family members if you can give them feedback or offer advice. Ask them “Can I give you some feedback?”. If they say yes, you have their permission to give your feedback. If they say no, you need to respect their boundaries and keep your opinion to yourself.
2. Learn to say no
This is one of the most pivotal skills you can learn. You don’t always have to say yes just because a family member asks you something. You can say no to their requests and do it without guilt. Learn to check in with yourself first to see what your gut tells you and then respond.
3. Step away
There are some times when family members cross your boundaries so much that you don’t have much of a choice but to step away. You may choose to tell them you are stepping away or you can step away without feeling guilty.
There are no exact steps you can take with your family. You can decide that you want to have strong boundaries and then begin to take small steps to reinforcing them. You have the ability to make your boundaries are strong or fluid as you decide. The key ingredient is that you are the one who makes the boundaries. If you want to talk to your mother every day and this feels good to you, then do it. If you don’t want to go home for Christmas, then don’t. You get to decide what works for you. Setting boundaries can be one of the healthiest things you do for yourself and the relationship.
Amanda Landry, LMHC, CAP decided to become a therapist while attending Nova Southeastern University. She saw the need to help people achieve the life they wanted to live, while creating a life of her own. She completed her master’s in Mental Health Counseling and started a career in the juvenile justice arena. Since then, she has started a private practice in Pembroke Pines, Florida, specializing in depression, anxiety relationship issues, and substance abuse. Amanda is a believer in holistic treatment and she practices veganism, meditation and yoga in her life. Find out more about her practice here. For a free 15-minute consultation, call or text Amanda at 954-378-5381 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A common concern that I often see is that of boundaries in relationships. A successful relationship is composed of individuals who have a clearly defined sense of their identities. Without our own understanding of self, of who we are and of what makes us unique, it is difficult to engage in the process of an ongoing relationship in a way that functions smoothly and enhances us. We need a sense of self in order to clearly communicate our needs and desires to one another. When we have a strong concept of our own identity, we can appreciate those qualities in another.
One value of a healthy sense of self is the way we understand and work with boundaries. Personal boundaries are the limits we set in relationship that allow us to protect ourselves. Boundaries come from having a good sense of our own self-worth. They make it possible for us to separate our own thoughts and feelings from those of others and to take pride in our uniqueness. Intact boundaries are flexible, they allow us to get close to others when it is appropriate and to maintain our distance when we might be harmed by getting too close. Good boundaries protect us from abuse and pave the way to achieving true intimacy. Ultimately, boundaries help us to take care of ourselves.
Unhealthy boundaries often result from dysfunctional family histories. The needs of parents or other adults in a family are sometimes so overwhelming that the task of raising children is demoted to a secondary role and dysfunction is the likely result. For example, if a parent screams at their children or becomes physically abusive with them as a way of dealing in a self-centered way with their own anger, this is putting their needs first and the needs of the children for safety, security, respect and comfort second. What the children learn in this situation is that boundaries don’t matter. As they grow up, they lack the support they need to form a healthy sense of their own identities. In some situations, they may learn that if they want to get their way with others, they need to intrude on the boundaries of other people, just the way their parent did, leading to dysfunctional relationships later in life. They wall themselves off in relationships as a way of protecting themselves, and, as a consequence, may find it difficult to form close interpersonal bonds with others in adulthood.
What are some signs of unhealthy boundaries? Here is a list:
- Telling all
- Talking at an intimate level at the first meeting
- Falling in love with a new acquaintance
- Falling in love with anyone who reaches out
- Being overwhelmed or preoccupied by a person
- Acting on the first sexual impulse
- Being sexual for your partner, not yourself
- Going against personal values or rights to please others
- Not noticing when someone else displays inappropriate boundaries
- Not noticing when someone invades your boundaries
- Not noticing when others react negatively to your behaviors
- Accepting food, gifts, touch, sex that you don’t want
- Touching a person without asking
- Taking as much as you can get for the sake of getting
- Giving as much as you can give for the sake of giving
- Allowing someone to take as much as they can from you
- Letting others direct your life
- Letting others describe your reality
- Letting others define you
- Believing others can anticipate your needs
- Expecting others to fill your needs automatically
- Falling apart so someone will take care of you
- Self abuse
- Sexual and physical abuse
- Food and chemical abuse
- Rigid, inflexible boundaries
Some of the ways that unhealthy boundaries interfere with relationships include; lack of self identity, settling for second best, over-responsibility and guilt, not knowing the difference between love and rescue or lacking the understanding between fantasy and reality. When you move into accepting yourself, your relationships will actually have a chance to grow and flourish. This journey of self-discovery can be challenging – but highly rewarding. It means coming to know ourselves and increasing our awareness of what we stand for. It also means self-acceptance and knowing that we are OK as we are and worthy of the good things in life. Working with a trained therapist can provide the structure and support needed to take on this task.
Are you ready to dive into self-discovery and establish healthy boundaries in your life? Call me today for your free consultation at 561-408-1098 with offices in Boca Raton, FL and virtually.
Hi, I’m Jennifer Bishop, Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Boca Raton, Florida. I offer services at my office as well as virtually. I specialize in working with children ages 3 to 12 and their parents. I also specialize in working with adults who have gone through a major life event and are seeking healing from this so they can live the life they were meant to live.
Setting appropriate boundaries with people is hard enough, but when it’s family it’s even harder. These are the people that we turn to for love and support our entire lives, and now we have to set up a line, which says this is what is appropriate and this makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s extremely hard to do, but necessary for our wellbeing and our relationships. I keep the following in mind when setting healthy boundaries with my own family, as well as when helping my clients set boundaries with their loved ones.
Know your comfort zone- You have to be aware of your own comfort zone. If you aren’t, you have to learn what your comfort zone is and what isn’t. You also need to know what the other person’s comfort zone is. More than likely a mother isn’t going to want to know about her child and their intimacy levels with anyone, and vice versa.
Be Assertive- Be honest and assertive and instead of making jokes or getting mad, tell your loved one how you feel. Remember assertiveness helps you to get your needs met, without using anger, and helps to alleviate the frustration of not getting your needs heard.
Know when to walk away or hang up- If someone cannot respect your boundaries, then sometimes you have to be the person that does do the hard work and have to be respectful and say, Ok well I will talk to you later, and either leave or hang up the phone, end the text, etc. It is hard to do, but it works well, because it gives you the ability to respect yourself and YOUR boundaries.
In the end you are the one who has to be comfortable and not feel awkward, but remember setting boundaries is healthy and will keep the relationship healthy for longer.
Ilene Glance is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the state of Florida. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alabama, and went on to get her Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from Nova Southeastern University. She has worked with all ages and populations ranging from 5 year old to 80. She is an active member in the American Counseling Association, and has received trainings and certificates in addictions, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Enhancement and Motivational Interviewing. She also is currently a NCC and CCHMC Certified Counselor.
Often times setting boundaries with people and in relationships can be a challenge. With family, it’s an even bigger challenge. We grow up taking on certain roles in our family; peace maker, scapegoat, lost child, victim, hero, mascot, and the enabler. With these roles come specific behaviors that are learned and belief systems. The beliefs and learned behaviors make it a challenge to set boundaries and it can bring about feelings of guilt. However, healthy and realistic boundaries with family are important and here are some tips:
Be assertive – say what you mean and mean what you say.
Own what it is you set – identify what boundaries are necessary and own your decision
Understand that there will be resistance – people are used to your family role. They are used to boundaries and it will take time for you and others to adjust
Notice – pay attention to whether or not your boundaries are wavering. Are you causing confusion due to inconsistent boundaries or are you being clear and consistent?
Don’t give up – setting boundaries is new and can be challenging. Don’t give up just because someone may try and violate your boundary, keep being assertive and standing your ground.
Assimilate – keep true to your word because all you have to believe is what you tell yourself. This means you need to change your behavior to match your intentions and the changes you are making.
Remember – it’s important to remember that healthy boundaries will keep your relationships healthy. Boundaries help prevent enmeshment and are part of self-care.
You matter – your well-being is just as important as everyone else in your life. If you aren’t taking care of yourself and being your best self how can you help anyone else? No matter how uncomfortable it is to set boundaries it’s an important piece of having healthy relationships.
A great read for setting boundaries is Boundaries Where You End And I Begin: How To Recognize And Set Healthy Boundaries, by: Anne Katherine
Stephanie Savo is a licensed mental health counselor who has been practicing therapy since 2008. She graduated with her Master’s in Mental Health Counseling from Nova Southeastern University. Stephanie has experience working with adolescents and young adults. She has been working with adolescents and young adults who experience depression, anxiety, trauma, low self-esteem and worth, lack of identity and individuality, and who want to be empowered.
Stephanie utilizes a variety of therapeutic techniques when working with her clients. She treats the person and the symptoms they are experiences rather than the label. She focuses on taking a collaborative and eclectic approach with her clients to help them get to their desired goals. Stephanie models for and assists her clients with consistent growth and personal development as she does in her own life.